Gilmore v. Bouboulis, 3:15-CV-0686 (GTS/DEP)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
PartiesHEIDI GILMORE; and JASON GILMORE, Plaintiffs, v. EVE BOUBOULIS, in her individual and official capacity as Commissioner for the Otsego County Department of Social Services; MERRITT HUNT, in his individual and official capacity as Investigator for the Otsego County District Attorney's Office; JOHN M. MUEHL, in his individual and official capacity as Otsego County District Attorney; and OTSEGO COUNTY, Defendants.
Docket Number3:15-CV-0686 (GTS/DEP)
Decision Date29 August 2016




Counsel for Plaintiffs

472 South Saline Street, Suite 300

Syracuse, New York 13202


Counsel for Defendants

6575 Kirkville Road

East Syracuse, New York 13057







GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge


Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by Heidi Gilmore and Jason Gilmore (collectively, "Plaintiffs") against Otsego County and three of its employees (collectively, "Defendants"), is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) (Dkt. No. 13) and Plaintiffs' cross-motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a) (Dkt. Nos. 33-34). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiffs' cross-motion is granted in part and denied in part.

A. Plaintiffs' Complaint

Generally, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges as follows.

1. Otsego County's Investigation and Prosecution of Welfare Fraud Cases

Defendant Eve Bouboulis ("Bouboulis") is Commissioner of the Otsego County Department of Social Services ("DSS"), and Defendant John Muehl ("Muehl") is the Otsego County District Attorney ("OCDA"). (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 7-8 [Plfs.' Compl.].) DSS and the OCDA are signatory to a written agreement, the Investigative Unit Operations Plan ("IUOP"), pursuant to which DSS delegated to the OCDA "the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting alleged welfare fraud in Otsego County." (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9; accord, Dkt. No. 1 at 31-62 ["Exhibit A"].)1 Defendant Merritt Hunt ("Hunt") is a police officer and an investigator in the OCDA's Special Investigations Unit ("SIU"), the unit tasked with investigating and prosecuting alleged welfare fraud under the IUOP.2 (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Under the terms of the IUOP, the SIU (comprised of an assistant district attorney, three "DA investigators," and a "DSS clerk") is "[t]he organizational unit responsible for the investigation and prosecution of allegations of client fraud," including, among other things, investigation of "Intentional Program Violations" ("IPV") and performance of "front end detection visits." (Dkt. No. 1 at 41.) With respect to how allegations of possible fraud are processed, the IUOP further provides that

[a]llegations made to the Department are reported to the SIU by written complaints by the public, written referral by staff and phone contacts directly to the Unit. Determinations are made by SIU through research and interviews of all pertinent parties. Information gathered is reviewed with the District Attorney and a decision made as to the disposition of the compliant; i.e.: unsubstantiated, IPV, inadvertent Household Error, Disqualification Consent Agreement and/or prosecution.


2. Plaintiffs' Employment and Application for Benefits

Plaintiffs, who are husband and wife, have four children and reside in Otsego County, New York. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 5-6 [Plfs.' Compl.].) At all times relevant to Plaintiffs' claims, Plaintiff Jason Gilmore ("Mr. Gilmore") worked full-time at a retail store, and Plaintiff Heidi Gilmore ("Mrs. Gilmore") was a stay-at-home mother. (Id. at ¶¶ 59-60.) Mrs. Gilmore also "occasionally generat[ed] additional income" by selling jewelry that she made on a "craft website," Etsy. (Id. at ¶ 60.) The time that Mrs. Gilmore committed to jewelry making "fluctuated unpredictably," but, when "actively engaged in" jewelry sales through Etsy, Mrs. Gilmore reported her income to DSS. (Id. at ¶¶ 62-63.)

"During the first part of February" 2014, Mrs. Gilmore "sporadically worked on" completing an application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits (i.e., food stamps)3 for Plaintiffs' family. (Id. at ¶¶ 65-66.) Plaintiffs did not have internet access at home, and so Mrs. Gilmore submitted a paper application for SNAP benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 67-68.) At the time of submission, Plaintiffs had two sources of income, both of which Mrs. Gilmore included on the SNAP application: (1) Mr. Gilmore's employment income, and (2) child support that was "supposed to" total $50 per month, but that was not "always reliably paid." (Id. at ¶ 69.)

After she submitted the application, but before the end of February 2014, Mrs. Gilmore "obtained internet access" and was able to "re-open her Etsy account and resume trying to sell jewelry when time permitted." (Id. at ¶ 70.) Her income from selling jewelry "fluctuated and was not reasonably certain." (Id.) In any event, however, the "countable income generated by" Mrs. Gilmore's jewelry sales never raised Plaintiffs' household income above 130% of the federal poverty level (i.e., an amount that would have required Plaintiffs' household to report a change in income during their benefit certification period). (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32, 71.) Mrs. Gilmore "made numerous attempts to both report and obtain reporting worksheets during the certification period," although Plaintiffs "had no legal duty to report any of the income she generated." (Id. at ¶ 72.)

3. Mrs. Gilmore's July 2014 Meeting with Hunt

In or around July 2014, Mrs. Gilmore received a letter from Hunt, bearing OCDA's letterhead, that advised her that DSS "has referred [her] file to" OCDA and directed her to appear on July 9, 2014, to meet with OCDA investigators. (Id. at ¶¶ 73-74; accord, Dkt. No. 1 at 74 ["Exhibit D"].) Mrs. Gilmore appeared at the meeting as directed, and Hunt asked her if she knew why she had been summoned. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 76.) Mrs. Gilmore responded that "she thought she needed to provide tax return documents and her income from the first half of 2014 because she had difficulty reporting it to the agency," and she "explained [her] attempts to" submit self-employment worksheets. (Id. at ¶¶ 76-77.) Mrs. Gilmore provided Hunt with requested income documentation and "expressed concern over why she was there and what would happen to the benefits that were on their card." (Id. at ¶¶ 78, 80.) Hunt instructed her to "spend what [she received] in Food Stamps because they will not be able to take them back once they are put on your card." (Id. at ¶ 80.)

4. Investigation of Plaintiffs' Employment Income

At some point after the meeting, Hunt called Mrs. Gilmore and requested "a monthly breakdown of her income received in 2014," and, although she had already provided income information during the meeting, Mrs. Gilmore provided the accounting of her income as requested. (Id. at ¶¶ 81-82.) Thereafter, on September 4, 2014, Hunt submitted a "Request for Action/Services" form to DSS, requesting assistance from DSS "to determine if the income provided by Mrs. Gilmore resulted 'in an overgrant.'" (Id. at ¶ 83; accord, Dkt. No. 1 at 76 ["Exhibit E"].) DSS determined that Plaintiffs received an overpayment of benefits in the amount of $1,045. (Id. at ¶ 85; accord, Dkt. No. 1 at 80 ["Exhibit G"].)

5. Plaintiffs' November 2014 Meeting with Hunt

In November 2014, Plaintiffs received another letter from the OCDA "that mirrored" the letter from June 2014 but was addressed to both Plaintiffs. (Id. at ¶ 87.) The letter stated that Plaintiffs' "file" had been "referred from [DSS] to the [OCDA's] office for investigation." (Id. at ¶ 88.) Moreover, the letter directed Plaintiffs to appear for a meeting with OCDA investigators on November 19, 2014, and stated that the failure to respond to the letter "may result in your arrest and subsequent prosecution" and that no children were permitted to accompany Plaintiffs to the appointment. (Id. at ¶¶ 89-91.) The letter did not advise Plaintiffs that they could "bring a lawyer or other representative with them to the meeting" or indicate "the reasons for the investigation or the reason for the proposed meeting[.]" (Id. at ¶¶ 92-93.)

On November 19, 2014, Plaintiffs attended the meeting as directed. (Id. at ¶ 95.) When they are arrived, Plaintiffs were ushered through a metal detector and eventually escorted to a small office where they met with Hunt behind a closed doorf. (Id. at ¶¶ 98-100.) Hunt asked Plaintiffs "if they could tell him why they were there," and, on the desk in front of Plaintiffs, Mr. Gilmore recognized a document pertaining to his employment earnings that reflected that a check was issued to him in the amount of $1,800. (Id. at ¶¶ 103-04.) Mr. Gilmore stated that, if the meeting concerned that "employer statement," he could provide Hunt with "an updated sheet and check" that would establish that the check was a clerical error and that he never received a check for $1,800. (Id. at ¶ 104.) Hunt stated that Mr. Gilmore's "income was not the reason for the meeting," but that Plaintiffs "were being charged with welfare fraud because 'they had received more food stamps than they were due.'" (Id. at ¶¶ 105, 109.)

When they learned that they "were being charged with fraud," Plaintiffs "were terrified." (Id. at ¶ 112.) Hunt then referred Plaintiffs "to [an]other document on the table," which was aDisqualification Consent Agreement ("DCA"), and informed Plaintiffs that "they needed to sign the DCA and pay back the benefits they received." (Id. at ¶¶ 52-53, 113.) The DCA stated that Plaintiffs were overpaid SNAP benefits in the amount of $1,045 based on Mrs. Gilmore's "fail[ure] to report self employment income." (Id. at ¶ 114; accord, Dkt. No. 1 at 82 ["Exhibit H," Plaint...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT